Bangladesh needs to be prepared to tackle the coronavirus
The world is watching with anxiety and great concern the emergence of a new kind of coronavirus. Medical experts have stated that coronavirus can cause diseases in mammals, including humans, and birds. In humans, the virus causes respiratory infections which are typically mild but, in rare cases, can also be lethal. Common signs of coronavirus infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.
In more severe cases, this infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death. This outbreak by mid-February this year has already caused more than 1,000 deaths out of nearly 40,000 reported confirmed cases. There have been also 50 confirmed cases outside China.
The emergence of this new disease from Wuhan in China is already wreaking havoc throughout the world. It is having its own effect on the international paradigm. There is particular apprehension given the continuing problems being created in Africa as a result of ebola.
We have also noticed the terrible after-effects of dengue that emerged from East Asia and slowly travelled into Bangladesh. At this point, one needs to recall how over the last few centuries pandemics and epidemics have caused serious after-effects on the world population.
One should not think that such a situation might emerge in today’s world. However, one should remember the adage “prevention is always better than cure.”
The evolving developments have led the World Health Organization to recommend an Integrated Vector Control program consisting of five elements:
(a) Advocacy, social mobilization, and legislation to ensure that public health bodies and communities are strengthened
(b) Collaboration between the health and other sectors (public and private)
(c) An integrated approach to disease control to maximize use of resources
(d) Evidence-based decision making to ensure any interventions are targeted appropriately, and
(e) Capacity-building to ensure an adequate response to the local situation
These are very good suggestions that need to be carefully coordinated not only in countries with affected populations but also in countries that, fortunately, are still not infected with either dengue, ebola, or coronavirus. This particularly applies to vulnerable Bangladesh.
This latest version of the deadly virus is believed to have originated late last year in a seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife.
This latest virus attack is casting a long shadow on the international economic matrix. The global economy and the manufacturing sector are both facing setbacks after recently showing tentative signs of recovery in recent months.
Major bourses across Europe have posted broad declines with the composite Stoxx 600 index falling 1.8% and shares in the travel, luxury goods, and mining sectors tumbling down.
According to the Financial Times, London’s FTSE 100 has slid 2.2%, while Germany’s Dax has gone lower by 2.1%. The Wall Street share market in the US appears to have also suffered, particularly with regard to the S&P 500 futures.
China’s financial capital has ordered companies not to reopen until February 9, while the manufacturing hub of Suzhou (home to factories owned by companies such as Apple, Foxconn, Johnson & Johnson, and Samsung) has postponed the return to work of millions of migrant labourers.
Economists are very wary about putting any figures on it at this early stage, but some of them have estimated that the total cost of this latest virus outbreak to the global economy over the next few months might exceed $40 billion.
This deteriorating situation has led Bangladesh authorities to also correctly start discussing pre-emptive security and the precautionary measures that need to be undertaken in this regard.
This has assumed importance given the fact that numerous Bangladeshis visit China because it is an important strategic trading and economic partner. This also leads to Chinese businessmen coming to Bangladesh.
In addition, many Bangladeshi students carry on higher studies in several Chinese educational institutions. In recent times, numerous Bangladeshis have also been going to China for receiving specialized Chinese health care.
These elements have brought the entire situation into the forefront. This concern has assumed particular importance also because a large number of Chinese nationals are involved in the construction of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge.
Due to potential risk, many of these Chinese workers have come under travel restrictions -- both regarding visits to China and also return visits to Bangladesh.
Dhaka authorities after discussion with the Chinese authorities have also been able to bring back 316 Bangladeshis, mostly students from the affected area. They are now being kept under medical observation for two weeks.
Our Health Ministry has already finalized precautionary measures. The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control, and Research has in the meantime has urged the security personnel at the airport to take necessary preparation complying with WHO suggestions to detect the virus.
It has been encouraging to note that this effort at the Dhaka airport has already led to the screening of nearly 30,000 passengers arriving from all over the world including China. Fortunately no one has been found with any virus infection.
In any case, we need to be cautious at this time. This will enable us not to be sorry subsequently. Let us follow the WHO directives:
(a) Wash hands frequently with soap and water or wipe hands with alcohol-based hand sanitzier
(b) Cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
(c) Avoid unprotected close contact with anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms
(d) Seek medical care in case of a fever, cough, or difficulty in breathing, and
(e) While visiting markets, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals
Let us treat this unfortunate situation with care and enter into an interactive constructive engagement with the WHO so that our citizens, as well as those in South Asia and elsewhere, can live without fear.
One needs to also hope that the health sector is not found wanting in terms of required medical facilities during the time of need and will take steps to increase production and supply of anti-viral medicines, face masks, and hand sanitizers.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]